Pope Benedict Speaks Out on Child Abuse
In the wake of Pope Francis’ recent summit on child abuse, Pope Emeritus Benedict got to thinking where everything went wrong for the Church, and how to fix it. Pope Benedict was directly involved in much of this history. Under Pope John Paul II, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which had jurisdiction over abuse cases. As Pope Benedict, he spent much of his time on these cases. He just wrote a long letter about it. Many commentators viewed the letter as an attack on Pope Francis. But the letter was approved by both Pope Francis and Secretary of State Parolin. It was quickly reviewed by NCR, CRUX, and the National Catholic Register. RNS published a surprisingly critical article by the Associated Press. Each reviewers focused on only a small part of the letter, which was remarkably bad in many ways.
Pope Benedict begins at what he believes to be the origin of the problem:
“(1) The matter begins with the state-prescribed and supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality. In Germany, the then-Minister of Health, Ms. [Käte] Strobel, had a film made in which everything that had previously not been allowed to be shown publicly, including sexual intercourse, was now shown for the purpose of education. What at first was only intended for the sexual education of young people consequently was widely accepted as a feasible option.”
He believes the problem began with sex education. He claims this made all types of sex “feasible” and respectable. Pope Benedict hinted that after being taught that sex was “a feasible action” for them, children brought the abuse problem on themselves. They should never wiggle their cute little tushies like that. None of the reviewers commented on this new papal theory, perhaps because it is obviously wrong.
First, Pope Benedict ignores the fact that the Church’s child problem is worldwide and extends to countries that had no such sex education. The Irish, who probably suffered the worst atrocities, did not show filthy pictures to their children. Few countries had explicit films prescribed by the state as Benedict claims.
Second, he ignores the fact that even the most explicit sex education only involved heterosexual sex, not men raping boys.
Third, he ignores the fact that even in the few countries where sex education was both early and explicit, priestly sex abuse took place before such education. Pope Benedict appears to confuse the date in which the scandals started with the date when the abuse started. This is false. These crimes were not reported for a very long time – usually decades. The actual abuse took place long before the scandals broke out, and before the days of explicit sex education.
The Sexual Revolution
Under the category for sex education, Pope Benedict also included the sexual revolution, apparently believing that sex education is ineluctably bound to libertinism of all sorts. He even combined it with violence. While the Church used to believe that love of money was the root of all evil, Pope Benedict seems to believe sex is.
Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.
The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.
Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.
For Pope Benedict, the sexual revolution of 1968 meant that anything goes, including pederasty and rape. That’s not the way I remember it, or the way films, books, and magazines of that era presented it, or the way historians describe it. Pope Benedict probably had a revelation.
He also thinks that sex was “linked to a propensity to violence.” Not like the genteel ways of his beloved Third Reich. Did LBJ start the Vietnam War because of sex? Were the riots in Watts, Newark, Detroit, etc. caused by sex? Didn’t rural blacks also do it? Were the right-wing murderers of Archbishop Romero and thousands of villagers – Vatican allies in its fight against Communism - also driven by the sexual revolution?
Finally, Pope Benedict explicitly claims that the sexual revolution of 1968 authorized pedophilia. (That must have excited him as he confabulated about the “physiognomy” of this revolution.) Needless to say, he made no attempt to document his absurd claim.
Vatican II Corrupts the Church
Beyond the sexual revolution, Pope Benedict blames the worlds’ evils on Vatican II:
(2) At the same time, independently of this development, Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society. I will try to outline briefly the trajectory of this development.
Until the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Sacred Scripture was only cited for background or substantiation. In the Council’s struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely abandoned, and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was demanded.
According to Pope Benedict, the moral theology of the Church throughout almost all its history had virtually nothing to do with Sacred Scripture, which was just used for “background purposes” and maybe a sanity check or two. Good old-fashioned Church morality was based on “natural law,” which was vaguely alluded to in Paul’s letter to the Romans, but mainly came from Aquinas. It’s not clear what was ‘natural’ about it, but it was good enough to allow the Church burn many thousands at the stake and take on witches and countless ‘heretics’ of all stripes. What could be more natural?
But, he claims, Vatican II put an end to this old-fashioned morality. The subsequent immorality was not due to abandoning Latin services or meatless Fridays, or even giving lip service to the laity. According to Pope Benedict, the real damage was done by implementing “a moral theology based entirely on the Bible.” Apparently, he thinks the Holy Bible is evil. (Jesus said that anyone teaching against even the least of biblical laws was going to hell, but what did he know? Jesus never even mentioned ‘natural law’ – he supported the Bible/Torah all the way.)
Benedict claims that Pope John Paul II tried to fix things with some encyclicals, but the damage had been done. Apparently the double-whammy of Vatican II and the sexual revolution corrupted the Catholic seminaries, which suddenly became gay fraternities. (How was this due to biblical morality?)
The twin evils of Vatican II and the sexual revolution took a while to corrupt the purity of the Catholic Church - which had previously backed Mussolini and Hitler and still backed Franco, not to mention genocidal, right-wing thugs in Central and South America. According to Pope Benedict, these twin evils took over twenty years to work their black magic:
(2) The question of pedophilia, as I recall, did not become acute until the second half of the 1980s. In the meantime, it had already become a public issue in the U.S., such that the bishops in Rome sought help, since canon law, as it is written in the new (1983) Code, did not seem sufficient for taking the necessary measures.
The second half of the 1980s is when sex abuse scandals broke out in Louisiana and elsewhere in America. Just a few years earlier, the Church, in its infinite, divinely-inspired wisdom, changed canon law in ways that protected pederast priests and the bishops who covered up and facilitated their crimes. Who could have known? The age of prophecy ended long ago.
According to Pope Benedict, there is basically nothing to be done about it, since that would require “a criminal process,” which was alien to canon law and the Church. (They burned thousands of people for far less. Since, as Benedict points out, Jesus explicitly condemned even lesser forms of child abuse, couldn’t they just declare it heresy and burn the bastards?)
Pope Benedict is not optimistic: “What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed.” It isn’t clear, but I think the “failed” church he alludes to is Protestantism. I’m not sure how many would judge it as harshly as he does. After all, it doesn’t suffer from the plague of child abuse like the Catholic Church does, and it is far more effective at dealing with the few pederasts and other abusers in its employ.
Somehow, Pope Benedict concluded that the real problem is a loss of God – quite different than his earlier evils of Vatican II and the sexual revolution – which was not atheistic. “Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical.” The logic is unclear, as is the claim that talking about the absence of God is less “practical” than Catholic theology prior to Vatican II. In any case, all those pederast priests and the Church hierarchy that protects them must be far more anti-God than the average person, who at worst only screws around occasionally with consenting adults of the opposite sex.
After a good deal of rambling, Benedict concludes: “It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible.” Pope Benedict makes no attempt to define the “whole truth” versus the “half-truths of the devil.” So we are left with his claim that the Holy Church is indestructible, even if it is covered with sin and evil. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us how to clean it up. Even if you accept his arguments, nothing specific follows from them. He has no concrete recommendations – other than abandoning Vatican II and reversing the sexual revolution and stuffing all that nasty stuff back into the closet.
None of the reviewers commented about Pope Benedict’s attack on atheists and agnostics. Had he made similar comments about any ethnic or religious group, or about gays or lesbians, he would have been widely attacked for bigotry. But no one defends atheists or agnostics.
This is outrageous. Not only are atheists far less likely to rape little boys than priests, they are, in general, far better-behaved than the average person. If you look at incarceration rates, they are not only less likely to be imprisoned than the average adult, I suspect they are less likely to be criminals than all major religious groups – certainly Catholics, Southern Baptists, and other evangelicals. On the positive side, they are far more likely to win a Nobel Prize than any of those groups. Atheists and agnostics are among our best and brightest, and it’s time someone protested the mindless, widespread bigotry against them. The Church was never as moral as atheists, and in all likelihood, never will be.
Not only are Pope Benedict’s arguments absurd, his commentary on Pope Francis’ recent summit on child abuse – the ostensible reason for this letter - is of little, if any, practical value. He initially blames Vatican II and the sexual revolution, but then says the real problem is the loss of God. But he has no practical recommendations for the Church going forward. The fact that Pope Francis and his Secretary of State approved this garbage confirms that the Catholic Church is incapable of dealing with these problems.